The Hardest Part is Letting Go … of Unpublished Poems

86º feels like 95º ~ after a solid week of below-normal temps and delightful air, we return to the bayou-esque weight, bright sun in between giant white cloud-islands, building toward storms over the weekend

While I’ve been away from the blog re-focusing on the upcoming semester, I have not abandoned all poetic endeavors. I have not drafted anything new, but I’ve been busy submitting work, recording rejections, making small revisions, and sending out work again. This year, I’ve noticed that more and more of the journals that used to open on August 1 have pushed back to the 15th or even September 1. I also ran across one journal that only accepts the first 300 submissions per genre each month of their reading period, citing the volume of submissions and not charging a reading fee. I love this. It means that my submission will get a good look rather than the cursory ones that sometimes happen when editors and screeners are overburdened.

As I’ve been in “po-biz” mode, I’ve been confronted with a rather large pile of poems that have accumulated since 2014. These are things that began as drafts and made their way into the “ready to submit” folder. In other words, once upon a time, I had faith in these poems. They’ve now been out into the world and have been rejected a few times. I confess, over the past two years I have not been as diligent at keeping them circulating, so they’ve only been rejected a few times instead of my usual 20+ times. Now, however, I find that I have moved well past these poems. I’ve worked on the collage-poetry hybrid project and moved on to writing about my dad and am now sussing out some political poems. Here I am today facing that question that all poets get to eventually.

Is it okay to abandon previously written poems that haven’t found a home in a lit mag?

Yes, of course it is, but it is hard. I feel responsible for these poems, yet I no longer have the kind of faith in them I once did. This is in part because they were written during a foundering time and in part because my own writing has evolved in the meantime. This afternoon, I will move these poems from the “ready to submit” folder and place them in the “out of commission” folder, and their future will become even more uncertain. Perhaps there will come a time when I’m asked to curate a “selected & new” book and I’ll go back and revise them again; perhaps decades hence some grad student will unearth them and they will go viral, stronger than I knew they were; perhaps they will simply fade away in the ether and in the paper recycler.

I find this emotional connection to the work fascinating. It is a separate feeling than the one that goes with getting an acceptance or being able to share a link to a published piece. I don’t subscribe to the parental metaphor of the the writer and her “babies,” but I do know that I feel this weight of having created these poems and consciously removing them from the possibility of an audience. However, the other option doesn’t work for me. It seems I have only so much poetry energy to spare, and I can only manage the “po-biz” of a certain set of poems at a time.

This has me wondering: how do you all make these decisions, or do you continue to submit poems that have begun to feel quite distant?

Posted by Sandy Longhorn


Donna Vorreyer

I often go to those poems in times when I am struggling with new work and mine them for their best lines. Kind of like stealing from myself – sometimes those lines end up working out in newer pieces and sometimes they don’t, but they at least get the pen moving.

Sandy Longhorn

Hey, Donna. I’m struggling to learn how WordPress handles comments. Thanks for visiting and reading. Thanks for the contribution to the discussion.

John Vanderslice

I feel for you. Finally putting something aside like that is hard. What’s especially hard is if you, the author person, with the supposedly advanced taste, still revere the piece and feel it deserves to see the light of the day. Most of the time, this isn’t the case. Most of the time, if I retire a story, I’ve had a suspicion for a long time–maybe even the beginning–that it’s not up to snuff. But then I get those stories where I still love them, and I can’t see why others don’t too. And at that point I have to ask myself if my emotional connection to the piece is based on something other than simple quality (whatever that means). And usually I can see how, yes, that’s probably the case. But other times . . . Why don’t they love this story!? I realize this isn’t exactly what your asking; and I of course cannot consider myself a poet anymore. So I’m surely not helping you at all. Surprised you didn’t get more comments on this one. Maybe everyone is on vacation!

Kathleen Kirk

Some things get set aside, yes. I have other poems that I have great faith in, though they are repeatedly rejected. I imagine that they haven’t found their right time. (Not just the right home or editor.) So I like your idea about the future discovery…!